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British Journal of Social Psychology (2020)
©2020 The British Psychological Society
The Queen Bee phenomenon in Academia
15 years after: Does it still exist, and if so, why?
*, Naomi Ellemers
and Belle Derks
University of Geneva, Switzerland
Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Fifteen years ago, the British Journal of Social Psychology published a set of studies on male
and female academics, documenting that female faculty members were more likely than
male faculty members to express stereotyped views of women at the beginning of their
academic careers (PhD candidates; Ellemers et al., 2004, Br. J. Soc. Psychol., 43, 3). At the
same time, the self-descriptions of female faculty members were just as masculine as those
of their male colleagues. Ellemers and colleagues (2004, Br. J. Soc. Psychol., 43, 3) referred
to this combination of results as indicating the existence of a ‘Queen Bee (QB)
phenomenon’ in academia. The present contribution investigates whether the QB
phenomenon is also found among current generations of academics, investigating this in
two recent samples of academic professionals (N=462; N=339). Our ﬁndings
demonstrate that the phenomenon ﬁrst documented in 2004 still exists: Advanced career
female academics are more likely than their male counterparts to underestimate the
career commitment of women at the beginning of their academic careers. At the same
time, both male and female academics at advanced career stages describe themselves in
more masculine terms than those at early career stages. We argue this indicates a
response pattern in which successful women emulate the masculinity of the work
environment. To indicate this, the term ‘self-group distancing’ might be more appropriate
than ‘Queen Bee effect’.
I have the impression that my female doctoral students are spoiled. They are not available to
work on evenings and the weekend. They are busy with their boyfriend. For my male doctoral
students, the career is everything.
Reaching a fair representation of women in top level positions is a serious challenge for
many organizations. It is often assumed that promoting some women into key positions will
make it easier for other women to follow. But is it really as simple as that? Are successful
women in male-dominated professions and organizations indeed ready to support women
in early career stages? Although ﬁctional, the 2006 comedy drama The Devil Wears Prada
suggests the opposite. As the title suggests, the female manager played by Meryl Streep turns
out to be particularly harsh and demanding towards her female intern.
What could be seen as ‘entertaining ﬁction’ is actually uncomfortably close to reality in
some organizations. Research in social psychology has examined the mechanisms that
*Correspondence should be addressed to Klea Faniko, Facult´
e de Psychologie et des Sciences de l’ ´
e de Gen`
40 Bvd du Pont d’Arve, CH-1211 Gen`
eve 4, Switzerland (email: Klea.Faniko@unige.ch).
This quote comes from a series of interviews conducted in the framework of Study 1, which was part of a larger research project.
lead women in senior positions to underestimate the abilities and dedication of women at
early career stages, in this way –sometimes unwittingly –putting up obstacles for other
women aiming to climb the organizational ladder. Instead of assuming these ‘devils’ are
individuals with ﬂawed personalities or reveal how women generally prefer to behave, we
examine the possibility that highly masculine organizations offer career experiences that
encourage such responses in women. If this is the case, preventing such patterns is only
possible when organizational cultures and images of success become more diverse and
What is the Queen Bee phenomenon?
Fifteen years ago, the British Journal of Social Psychology published a contribution in
which differential career ambitions and stereotypical perceptions of male and female
academics were examined as possible reasons for the underrepresentation of women in
academia (Ellemers, van den Heuvel, de Gilder, Maass, & Bonvini, 2004). Ellemers et al.
(2004) reported two studies conducted at universities in the Netherlands and Italy. While
they observed no difference in the self-stated ambitions of male and female PhD
candidates, female faculty members were more likely than their male colleagues to
underestimate the career ambitions of junior female academics. Further, female faculty
members reported a gender identity that was equally masculine as their male colleagues
(in Study 2). The authors argued that the tendency of female faculty members to perceive
female PhD candidates as less committed to their career than male Phd candidates (while
in actuality male and female PhD candidates reported similar career ambitions) while
describing themselves in highly masculine terms would indicate how they ﬁt the
masculine prototype of the successful academic and were different from other women.
They explained this phenomenon by arguing that these are all indicators of a response
pattern relating to the career experiences of women in male-dominated organizations.
The authors referred to these ﬁndings as the Queen Bee phenomenon (a term that was
introduced by Staines, Tavris, & Jayaratne, 1974). They suggested that these responses can
be seen as stemming from career advancement strategies that women in male-dominated
organizations use to contend with gender-stereotypical expectations that underestimate
the abilities and ambitions of women. This induces some women to emphasize their
exceptional ambition and masculinity, which should separate them from (the stereotype
of) other women, resulting in ‘self-group distancing’. Ellemers et al. (2004) argued that:
‘⋯survival of women in a male-dominated work environment entails a form of individual
mobility, in the sense that they have to prove to themselves and others that they are unlike
other women in order to be successful in an academic career’. (p. 333).
What is the added value of repeating research conducted 15 years ago?
When Ellemers et al. (2004) conducted their initial studies, the female faculty members they
examined represented a generation of women who constituted a small minority among
academic faculty. In fact, although they consistently observed QB responses in both their
studies (see Ellemers et al., 2004; Tables 1 and 2) follow-up analyses of the main results in
Study 2 revealed that this pattern of results was mostclearly visible among the generation of
women born between 1921 and 1949 (see Ellemers et al., 2004; Tables 3 and 4). These were
women who had started their academic careers when women’s equal rights in the labour
market still were contested. Many of them would have been be the ﬁrst woman in history to
enter a position on their faculty. Ellemers et al. (2004) argued that: ‘⋯these data are
2Klea Faniko et al.
consistent with our theoretical argument that when it is exceptional for women to pursue
an academic career, those who are successful in doing so perceive themselves as non-
prototypical members of their gender group’ (Ellemers et al., 2004, p. 332). However, they
also noted that –due to the small number of older female faculty in their sample –this aspect
of their analysis was inconclusive and in need of further research. Thus, Ellemers et al.
(2004) reasoned that QB responses are caused by personal career experiences and
speculated that these might no longer emerge in future generations of female academics. In
fact, the ﬁnal sentence of their paper reads: ‘ Thus, when it no longer seems necessary to
distance oneself from other gender group members in order to prove one can be successful
at work, this may prevent gender stereotypes from affecting the career opportunities of
women at the university’. (p. 332).
For current generations of academics, the enrolment of female students in higher
education is self-evident and the presence of female faculty members is no longer
exceptional. However, this does not necessarily imply that gender stereotypes no longer
affect the career opportunities of women at the university. Indeed, we note that policies
aiming to attract, advance, and retain women within universities and research institutions
have not yet had the intended effects, and efforts towards achieving these goals have only
increased during the last years (see League of European Research Universities, 2019).
Further, recent examinations of different samples of professional women (which we
review below) offer evidence that QB responses are still observed, and can be related to
the negative career experiences that women still encounter during their careers in
different professions and organizations (e.g., the police force) where higher power and
status roles are still occupied mostly by men (Derks, Ellemers, Van Laar, & de Groot, 2011;
Derks, Van Laar, Ellemers, & de Groot, 2011; Faniko, Ellemers, & Derks, 2016; Faniko,
Ellemers, Derks, & Lorenzi-Cioldi, 2017).
This is why we consider it of interest to examine the QB phenomenon once again
among the current generation of female academics and compare the results obtained to
those reported by Ellemers et al. (2004). This allows us to examine whether QB responses
have disappeared with increasing representation of women in academia, or persist even
among female academics today. In addition, we aim to understand whether –despite the
presence of women –the organizational culture in academia might implicitly continue to
deﬁne career success in terms of the masculine stereotype. To examine this, we also
compare gender-stereotypical self-views of men and women at the beginning of their
academic careers (PhD candidates) to those who are more advanced in their career
(faculty members). This should inform our understanding of whether and how images of
success in the academic environment are reﬂected in the self-views of men and women at
different career stages. Both these insights might beneﬁt attempts to offer equal work
conditions for men and women working in academic institutions.
Scientiﬁc explanations for the Queen Bee phenomenon
Since its publication, the studies reported by Ellemers et al. (2004) have been referenced
over 391 times by researchers in social psychology, economics and management, and
organizational studies. The phenomenon has also inspired public discourse and multiple
media reports over the years, focusing on the propensity of professional women to be
highly competitive towards each other, and reluctant to support other women. Indeed,
many media accounts selectively report their favoured interpretation of the academic
literature on the Queen Bee phenomenon, claiming that rivalries between women are
speciﬁc to the nature of women.
Queen Bee phenomenon in Academia 15 years after 3
Such responses have also been observed by researchers working in different
theoretical and research traditions, and are indicated with a variety of terms. For instance,
Tug of War is a term used to describe female rivalry in the workplace (Williams, 2014;
Williams, Berdahl, & Vandello, 2016; Williams & Dempsey, 2014). Cat ﬁghts is another
term used in the ﬁeld of communication sciences to describe the same female rivalry
(Tanenbaum, 2002). Similar phenomena have been studied in different strands of
academic research (see Cowan, Neighbors, DeLaMoreaux, & Behnke, 1998; Duguid,
2011; Etzkowitz, Kemelgor, Neuschatz, Uzzi, & Alonzo, 1994; Gabriel, Butts, Yuan, Rosen,
& Sliter, 2018; Jones & Palmer, 2011; Markovits, Gauthier, Gagnon-St-Pierre, & Benenson,
2017; Mavin, 2008; Sheppard & Aquino, 2012a, 2014; Tanenbaum, 2002). In all cases, the
terms chosen to describe these phenomena indicate hostile behaviou r between women in
the workplace. The recognition of this behaviour both in scientiﬁc research and in public
media suggests that the phenomenon is (still) valid and widespread. At the same time, the
terms used to indicate this response pattern not always accurately represent emerging
insights about the origins and true nature of the QB phenomenon.
The ﬁrst paper (Ellemers et al., 2004) on the Queen Bee phenomenon was the starting
point of a broader research programme on the psychological effects of underrepresen-
tation of women (see Derks, Van Laar, & Ellemers, 2016 for an overview). The relevance of
this phenomenon has now been documented with empirical evidence obtained through
different samples, with data collected in a variety of work environments and national
contexts. More concretely, it has been examined among senior policewomen in the
Netherlands (Derks, Ellemers, et al., 2011), among women in business leadership
positions in the Netherlands (Derks, Van Laar, et al., 2011), Switzerland and Albania
(Faniko et al., 2016, 2017), and in Indonesia (Permatasari & Suharnomo, 2019), among
female professors in Italy and Spain (Bagues, Sylos-Labini, & Zinovyeva, 2017), and among
executives and senior female managers in South Africa (Johnson & Mathur-Helm, 2011) as
well as in the United States (Workplace Bullying Institute, 2010; for reviews, see Derks
et al., 2016; Ellemers, Rink, Derks, & Ryan, 2012; Faniko, Chipeaux, & Lorenzi-Cioldi,
In this literature, a growing body of evidence conﬁrms the notion that QB responses
are triggered by speciﬁc career experiences in male-dominated work environments
(Derks, ; Faniko et al., 2016, 2017). For instance, correlational data revea l that –depending
on initial levels of gender identiﬁcation –there is a rel ation between experiences of gender
discrimination and QB responses. Speciﬁcally, QB responses were found mostly among
women holding senior positions, who showed low gender identiﬁcation at the beginning
of their career and had experienced gender discrimination as their career advanced
(Derks, Ellemers, et al., 2011). Further, experimental research additionally demonstrated
that being reminded of gender bias triggered these responses, among women who
identiﬁed weakly with their gender group at work (Derks, Van Laar, et al., 2011).
However, these responses were not found when women were reminded of situations at
work where they were judged on the basis of their individual merit. These ﬁndings suggest
that career experiences moderate QB responses: These do not occur as a matter of course,
but emerge when women suffer discriminatory career experiences, or when they
consider these experiences. In fact, similar self-group distancing responses were observed
among cultural minorities (both men and women) who advanced to higher professional
levels (Derks et al., 2015).
Other studies further contribute to the conclusion that QB responses are not
characteristic of the way in which women generally approach a professional career. This
research shows that such responses only become visible at senior career stages, and are
4Klea Faniko et al.
related to the negative experiences encountered by women during the course of their
career. Speciﬁcally, two studies showed that the increased tendency for women in
managerial positions (compared to women in subordinate positions) to display QB
responses was mediated by personal sacriﬁces they had made in different domains
(family, personal convictions, vacation) to achieve career success (Faniko et al., 2017).
This offers additional evidence that experiences that prompt women –more than men –to
make personal sacriﬁces for success as they advance in their careers explain why women
in managerial positions show QB responses.
Empirical research additionally shows that women report having received less
organizational support than men do as they advance to higher organizational levels
(Ellemers, 2014; Ellemers et al., 2012; Mulcahy & Linehan, 2014; Ryan & Haslam, 2007).
The experience that –to be successful in their career –women have to make more
sacriﬁces while receiving less support than men easily leads to the inference that this
makes them different from women at early career stages, many of whom might not be
equally motivated and persistent in making similar sacriﬁces to succeed in their career.
Together, these studies show that the response pattern seen to characterize the
‘Queen Bee’ is not to be attributed to ‘the way some women are’ or how they typically
interact with each other at work. Instead, research reveals that factors in the
organizational context and more speciﬁcally the exposure to gender-stereotypical
expectations, negative career experiences, and lack of organizational support contribute
to the maintenance of the QB phenomenon.
Does the Queen Bee phenomenon still exist in academia?
There is reason to believe that current generations of women in academia might no longer
display QB responses. Since 2004, several actions have been undertaken by different
institutions to promote women’s careers in academia and increase female representation,
including at the highest job levels. Various gender equality programmes and action plans
have attempted to improve the conditions, and opportunities for women access,
employment, and equal pay in academia (for reviews, see League of European Research
Universities, 2019). The share of female students graduating from universities now
exceeds that of male students and for women pursuing an academic career is not as
exceptional as used to be the case for prior generations of female professors, many of
which went through the experience of being the ﬁrst woman ever having reached a
faculty position in their ﬁeld. The introduction of gender equality initiatives, as well as an
increasing number of female students and researchers, implies that nowadays it is less
exceptional than for previous generations of women to make a career as a female
At the same time, there also is reason to believe that, despite the increased presence of
women in the workplace including academia, stereotypes about women in science persist
and impede their career progress (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, &
Medicine report, 2020). In fact, many women in academia still suffer sexism and negative
career experiences that might trigger QB responses (Tenbrunsel, Rees, & Diekmann,
2019). Following up on the #MeToo movement, the US National Science Foundation
(2018) and National Institutes of Health (2019) have recently noted that ongoing
harassment and sexism in academia may discourage women from pursuing an academic
career. Despite the larger inﬂux of female students and junior academics, relevant
statistics continue to indicate a so-called scissor effect between the genders that persists
through different cohorts of men and women. That is, even in disciplines where women
Queen Bee phenomenon in Academia 15 years after 5
have been overrepresented among PhD’s and at early career stages for many years (such as
psychology, Clay, 2017), they are still clearly underrepresented at higher job levels in
academia, indicating their lesser likelihood of being promoted and higher dropout rate at
each career stage (European Commission, 2019). Thus, regardless of the presence of
gender equality programmes and the increasing number of female students and
researchers, continuing indications of sexism and gender bias in academia suggest that
the QB phenomenon may still be present today.
The current research
The current research examined evidence for two competing hypotheses, explaining
the QB phenomenon either from the career experiences of a speciﬁc generation of
women (generation hypothesis), or from the experiences female academics still
encounter today while advancing in their career (academic experience hypothesis).
The generation hypothesis was advanced by Ellemers et al. (2004) as a possible
explanation for their effects, and is based on the knowledge that the career success of
female academics nowadays is less exceptional than it was for the sample of women
examined by Ellemers et al. (2004). Due to implementation of gender equality
programmes and the increasing number of female researchers, it might be that the QB
phenomenon is no longer visible, when comparing the data from the Ellemers et al.
(2004) paper (prior generation of female academics) with the present results (current
generation of female academics).
The academic experience hypothesis is based on evidence revie wed above, suggesting
that sexism and gender discrimination persist within universities and research institutions
despite increasing numbers of female academics present. If women today are still exposed
to these negative career experiences, it is quite possible that the QB phenomenon is still
present. This would imply that even in current generations women continue to be
exposed to a masculine organizational culture as they advance in their career. This might
then elicit QB responses, resulting in differences between the way men and women at
advanced career stages view male and female early career stage academics. To examine
this possibility, in the current data we will compare how women and men at advanced
academic career levels (1) perceive early career female and male academics and (2) how
men and women describe themselves in masculine terms at early versus later career
stages, by comparing self-views of male and female doctoral students with those of male
and female faculty members.
To examine support for each of these hypotheses, we repeated the research reported
by Ellemers et al. (2004), to examine evidence for the QB phenomenon in two recent
samples of academics. More concretely, like Ellemers et al. (2004) did, we compared how
female and male faculty members perceived the career commitment of male and female
PhD candidates and assessed whether male and female PhD candidates and faculty
members described themselves in stereotypically masculine terms. This also parallels our
recent research (Derks, Ellemers, et al., 2011; Derks, Van Laar, et al., 2011; Faniko et al.,
2016, 2017), in which we compared perceptions and self-views of men and women at
different career stages in other employment contexts. The comparison of the results
reported by Ellemers et al. (2004) with the current results allows us to examine support
for the generation hypothesis. The comparison between male and female participants at
different career stages in the current research allows us to examine support for the
academic experience hypothesis.
6Klea Faniko et al.
The two data sets
reported in the current research were collected in Switzerland. The
sample of Study 1 consisted of 462 participants (age 23–68, M=39.21, SD =12.23), all
academics employed at one of the nine different faculties and interfaculty institutions at a
large university. Of them, 248 were PhD candidates (166 female and 82 male, age
M=29.28, SD =3.65), which we consider as early career academics, and 211 were
(tenured) faculty members in lecturing and professorship positions (85 women and 126
men, age M=50.79, SD =7.69), which we consider as advanced career academics. The
group of faculty members consisted of senior lecturers/maıˆtres d’enseignement et de
e (18%), assistant professors/professeurs assistant (18.5%), adjunct professors/
professeurs titulaires (6.2%) associate professors/professeurs associ ´
es (27%), and full
professors/professeurs ordinaires (30.3%). Post-docs and other academic staff on
temporary and/or part-time contracts were not considered, as these constitute a very
heterogeneous group both in terms of career stage and involvement in academic life.
The sample of Study 2 consisted of 339 scientists (M=34.98, SD =9.69) working in
STEM disciplines at an internationally oriented academic research institute. In terms of
career stage, there are 193 participants (63 women and 130 men, age M=29.01,
SD =3.39) including junior research fellows and PhD candidates that we consider as early
career academics, and 146 participants (36 women and 110 men, age M=42.86,
SD =9.68) who have managerial responsibilities; we consider these as advanced career
In terms of representing academics at different career stages, the current samples
resemble the samples examined by Ellemers et al. (2004). In both cases, these are early
career academics (mostly PhD candidates) and advanced career academics (tenure track
or tenured faculty members) working at a large academic institution in Europe
As in the research conducted by Ellemers et al. (2004), the questionnaire for the early
career academics comprised a scale measuring self-reported career commitment
(Ellemers, De Gilder, & Van den Heuvel, 1998). Early career participants were asked to
report their personal career commitment on four items ranging from 1 (strongly disagree)
to 7 (strongly agree) (Study 1, α=.86; Study 2, α=.81): ‘Professiona l success is one of the
most important things in my life’, ‘I often think about what I can do to get ahead in my
career’, ‘Most of my ambitions have to do with my career’, and ‘My career plays a central
These data sets were collected in the context of a larger study project, focusing on participant narratives and other interview and
survey data, aiming to inform the Diversity Ofﬁces of these institutions about the impact of their gender equality initiatives. Only
measures relevant to our speciﬁc research questions are reported here –these results are not reported elsewhere.
As a reminder, in the research reported by Ellemers et al. (2004), two groups of participants were recruited for Study 1 (the
Netherlands) as well as Study 2 (Italy). In both studies, participants included scholars from all faculty departments of the university
(Study 1: 13 departments; Study 2: 26 departments). Early career academics were all PhD candidates (Study 1, N=132, mean
age =29; Study 2, N=80, mean age =28), and advanced career academics were all (tenured) faculty members (Study 1,
N=156, mean age =47; Study 2, N=93, mean age =45). The second group comprised (the national equivalent of)
assistant (Study 1: 49%, Study 2: 30%), associate (Study 1: 15%, Study 2: 34%), and full professors (Study 1: 36%, Study 2: 36%).
Please note that in both these national academic systems, there is no natural progression to a higher job level after a number of
years. At each level, faculty members can stay in the same position until they retire, unless they successfully apply for a vacant
position at a different level.
Queen Bee phenomenon in Academia 15 years after 7
role in my life’. The same items were adjusted to measure the perceived career
commitment of male (Study 1, α=.94; Study 2, α=.91) and female PhD candidates
(Study 1, α=.91; Study 2, α=.90). The questionnaire for the advanced career
academics consisted of a scale assessing perceived levels of career commitment among
junior academics. The only difference was that while in the Ellemers et al. (2004) research
participants were randomly asked either to rate typical female doctoral or typical male
doctoral students, in the current research the statistical power was increased by asking
each participant to rate both typical male and female doctoral students.
As in the studies conducted by Ellemers et al. (2004), the items capturing self-perceived
masculinity were based on Bem’s Sex Role Inventory (Bem, 1974). We assessed the extent
to which early career and advanced career academics perceived themselves in masculine
terms. In addition to items that focused on agency (independent, have leadership
qualities, willing to take risks), we added two traits to represent the aspect of assertiveness
in the masculine stereotype (self-conﬁdent, willing to take the initiative; Abele, Uchronski,
Suitner, & Wojciszke, 2008; Diekman & Eagly, 2000).
Both groups of academics were
asked to indicate to what degree stereotypically masculine traits (characterized
themselves (α=.73, both studies).
Participants reported their background characteristics such as gender, age, nationality,
their position, marital status, and number of children.
Are female academics at early career stages less committed to their career than men?
As reported by Ellemers et al. (2004), an analysis of the self-reported career commitment
of early career academics did not reveal evidence for a difference between female and
male early career academics
in either sample, Study 1: F(1, 246) =0.05, p=.816,
p=.00, Study 2: F(1, 191) =1.93, p=.166, η2
p=.01, see Figure 1.
Who has stereotypical expectations about female early career academics?
A repeated measures MANOVA with the perceived career commitment of targets (male vs.
female early career academics) as within-participant variable, and participants’ gender
and career stage (early vs. advanced career academics) as between-participant variables
was conducted to examine whether the career commitment of female early career
academics was perceived as different from that of male early career academics, and if so by
whom. Results revealed a signiﬁcant two-way interaction between target gender and
participant’s gender on perceived career commitment, F(1, 455) =8.07, p=.005,
An additional analysis only examining the four items indicating agency produced the same pattern of results.
Female early career academics (Ellemers et al., 2004, Study 1: M=4.01, SD =1.37; Study 2: M=4.14, SD =1.05;
present data Study 1: M=5.10, SD =1.27; Study 2: M=5.38, SD =1.05); and male early career academics (Ellemers et al.,
2004, Study 1: M=3.86, SD =1.33; Study 2: M=3.92, SD =1.07; present contribution, Study 1: M=5.14, SD =1.22;
Study 2: M=5.13, SD =1.21).
8Klea Faniko et al.
Wilks’s Λ= .98, η2
p=.02 (Study 1) and between target gender and participant’s career
stage, Study 1: F(1, 455) =7.64, p=.006, Wilks’s Λ= .98, η2
p=.02; Study 2: F(1,
335) =4.50, p=.003, Wilks’s Λ= .99, η2
p=.01. In both studies, these effects were
qualiﬁed by a three-way interaction between participant’s gender, target gender, and
participant’s career stage, Study 1: F(1, 455) =9.28, p=.005, Wilks’s Λ= .98, η2
Study 2: F(1, 335) =4.26, p=.004, Wilks’s Λ= .99, η2
In line with the QB response pattern and consistent with results reported by Ellemers
et al. (2004), female advanced career academics perceived female early career academics
as less career committed than male early career academics (p<.001, both studies), while
this was not the case for male advanced career academics (all ps ns; see Figure 2, and
Table S1). The ratings provided by female advanced career academics also differed from
those offered by female early career academics (p=.002, p<.001, Study 1, Study 2,
respectively), while men, regardless of their career stage, did not show evidence of gender
stereotyping (all ps ns).
What are the gendered self-views of academics at different career stages?
A 2 (male vs. female participants)-by-2 (early vs. advance career stage) between-
participants analysis of variance on self-reported masculinity only revealed a main effect of
career stage, F(1, 455) =14.97, p<.001, η2
p=.03; F(1, 335) =12.16, p=.005,
p=.03 (Study 1, Study 2, respectively) indicating that both female and male academics
at advanced career stages offered more masculine self-descriptions than female and male
academics at early career stages (see Figure 3). That is, as reported by Ellemers et al.
(2004, Study 2, p. 330), the masculine self-descriptions observed among female advanced
career academics are not reliably different from those of their male colleagues
=5.65, SD =0.82; M
=5.59, SD =0.89; M
=5.79, SD =0.70;
=5.90, SD =0.69; p=.653, p=.459, Study 1, Study 2, respectively).
Stu dy 1 Stu dy 2 Stu dy 1 Stu dy 2
Ellemers and colleagues (2004) Present contr ibution
Self-reported career commitment
Female early career academics Male early career academics
Figure 1. Self-reported career commitment of female and male early career academics.
Queen Bee phenomenon in Academia 15 years after 9
In the present research, we additionally examined self-perceived masculinity of male
and female researchers at early career stages. This allows us to see that female advanced
career academics indicated higher levels of masculinity in their self-reports than female
Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women
Study 1 Study 2 Study 1 Study 2
Ellemers and colleagues (2004) Present contribuon
Perc eived car eer commi tment
Target: Male early career academics Target: Female early career academics
Figure 2. Perceived levels of career commitment of female and male early career academics among
female and male advanced career academics. Note: *p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001.
Men Women Men Women
Study 1 Study 2
Early career academics Advanced career academics
Figure 3. Self-reported masculinity of academics as a function of participant gender and career stage
(early vs. advanced career academics). Note: *p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001.
10 Klea Faniko et al.
early career academics, suggesting increased self-group distancing as they advanced in
their career (M
advanced career academics
=5.65, SD =0.82; M
early career academics
SD =0.99, M
advanced career academics
=5.79, SD =0.70; M
early career academics
SD =0.83, p=.001, p=.032, Study 1, Study 2, respectively). However, we note that
the same pattern was also observed among men, indicating they too perceive themselves
as more masculine as they advance in their career (M
advanced career academics
SD =0.89; M
early career academics
=5.29, SD =1.12, M
=5.90, SD =0.69;
early career academics
=5.59, SD =0.80, p=.001, p=.032, p=.033, p=.002, Study 1,
Study 2, respectively). Further, no signiﬁcant difference was observed among female and
male early career academics (p=.540, p=.225, Study 1, Study 2, respectively).
The goal of the present research was to test whether the QB phenomenon, ﬁrst reported
by Ellemers et al. (2004), can still be observed in academic settings today. Our data offer no
support for the ‘generation hypothesis’, advanced by Ellemers et al. (2004). That is,
despite increasing presence of women in academia, the same pattern of results that was
described 15 years ago is still visible in the two recent samples of academics reported
here. In both our current samples, female advanced career academics hold stereotypical
views of female early career academics. That is, whereas female and male early career
academics indicate similar levels of career commitment in their self-reports, female
advanced career academics women perceived female early career academics to be reliably
less dedicated to their career than men at early career stages. By contrast, male academics
at advanced career stages did not perceive a differenc e between the career commitment of
men and women at early career stages.
Even if the effect sizes observed here are relatively modest, the robustness of this
pattern is evident from the similarity of results obtained across our two current samples,
which are somewhat different in terms of the age range of participants, characteristics of
the institutions and their tasks and job types, as well as their disciplinary representation,
which covers the broad range of academic disciplines in Study 1 and focuses on STEM
disciplines only in Study 2. Further, these ﬁndings also resonate with similar observations
among women at advanced career levels in a range of different work contexts and job
types, including commercial businesses as well as public organizations (e.g., Derks et al.,
2016; Faniko et al., 2017).
Further, our ﬁndings do offer support for the ‘academic experience hypothesis’ as an
explanation for the observed response patterns. That is, comparing male and female
academics at different career stages indicates that both male and female academics offer
more masculine self-descriptions at advanced career stages than they do at early career
stages. The present results do not allow us to determine whether this results from changes
in the self-views of women during the course of their career, or from the (self-)selection of
women with the most masculine self-views. In both cases, the net result is that women at
advanced career stages are more inclined to describe themselves as non-prototypical
group members (i.e., in masculine terms) than do women at early career stages. We note
that in both these samples men too show more masculine self-descriptions at advanced
career stages than in their early career. The tendency for men as well as women to
perceive themselves as more masculine at more advanced career levels does not seem
incidental. Instead, this also is a pattern that has been documented before, in studies
conducted at Dutch universities (Derks, van Veelen, & Handgraaf, 2018) and in a business
Queen Bee phenomenon in Academia 15 years after 11
context (Faniko et al., 2016). These results suggest that the organization equates
masculinity with career success, implicitly communicating that –like men –women can
only successful when they present themselves as stereotypically masculine. However, in
the case of women this also implies that they self-describe as non-prototypical group
On the one hand, an organizational context that invites and rewards masculinity may
seem less problematic for men than for women (Derks et al., 2018). On the other hand, we
think women as well as men lose out if the organization only recognizes and rewards a
speciﬁc model of success, making it less likely for individuals (M/F) with more feminine
behavioural styles (e.g., focusing on cooperation and maintenance of a team atmosphere)
to see how they might advance to a position of leadership. This points to a more general
concern that has been documented in the context of diversity programs where individuals
with different contributions and abilities are recruited and hired, but diversity beneﬁts are
lost because they either have to ‘ﬁt in’ or ‘opt out’ (Ellemers, 2014; Ellemers & Rink, 2016).
This also points to the type of initiative that would be needed to reduce the persistence of
QB responses. Instead of encouraging more gender diversity by focusing on the numeric
representation of women at different academic career stages, such initiatives should also
aim to modify the homogeneously masculine organizational culture to make it more
inclusive for different types of men and women (see also S¸ahin, Van der Toorn, Jansen,
Boezeman, & Ellemers, 2019).
In sum, the current results suggest that the effects reported in 2004 still offer a valid
account of how career experiences of women in academia contribute to the emergence
and persistence of QB responses. The hope of Ellemers et al. (2004) was that future
generations of academic women would be less likely to have such experiences, as they
accessed the labour market after gender equality was enshrined in the law and the
presence of women in institutions for higher education had become self-evident. This
hope is refuted by the present data. Instead, they fuel the concern also expressed by
Ellemers et al. (2004), namely that low estimates of the academic ambitions of women at
early career stages would not be recognized as stereotypical thinking as long as these
were expressed by senior women (instead of men). Indeed, it turns out that men
continue to be signiﬁcantly more successful in climbing up the academic ladder (Beeler
et al., 2019; European Commission, 2018). Despite a comparable professional
performance, women are much more likely to drop out at some point in their career.
In sum, it seems that –unless changes in the academic culture can be realized –the
visible presence of senior women might harm rather than help the career success of
This research thus corroborates results from other studies, suggesting that the QB
phenomenon is not a cause, but rather the consequence of gender discrimination that
continues to prevail in academia, as in many other professional settings (Biggs, Hawley,
& Biernat, 2018; Britton, 2017; Burke, 2017; Kuchynka et al., 2018; Maranto & Grifﬁn,
2011). At the same time, the presence of women at advanced career levels, and efforts
to implement policies that aim support the careers of women in academia, makes it less
likely that continued discrimination is acknowledged. Instead, these tend to be seen as
signalling that women and men nowadays have equal opportunities, or that women are
in need of additional support because they are less competent than men (for reviews,
see Dover, Kaiser, & Major, 2019; Ellemers, 2018). This strong belief in supposedly
gender-blind meritocratic principles, in fact, preserves current practices in academia
which tend to value and reward stereotypically masculine and agentic traits (see also
Derks et al., 2018). Despite the fact that this discourse is not actively promoted in
12 Klea Faniko et al.
formal guidelines, its prevalence in informal statements and behaviours should not be
underestimated. At the same time, this culture also promotes the idea that personal
sacriﬁces have to be made as a necessary condition to be a successful academic. As
illustrated by the quote at the outset of this paper, female academics who have managed
to advance in their careers despite these difﬁculties, by renouncing a series of typically
female behaviours and life choices –including motherhood –may see this a necessary
condition to be successful in academia. They may ﬁnd it difﬁcult to accept that younger
colleagues expect to be equally successful without having to make such personal
sacriﬁces (Faniko et al., 2017).
The data presented here demonstrate that the QB phenomenon still exists 15 years after
this phenomenon was documented in academia. These ﬁndings counter the generation
hypothesis and support the academic experience hypothesis, as they suggest that women
still need to adjust themselves to the masculine academic culture in order to advance in
Is it still appropriate then to use the term Queen Bee to describe this phenomenon? We
argue that the term QB phenomenon is in need of revision, as it suggests women are the
problem, and should somehow be ‘ﬁxed’. In an interview with The Atlantic magazine
(Khazan, 2017), Carol Tavris, who was part of the research team that coined the
expression QB phenomenon in 1974 (Staines et al., 1974) likewise regretted that their
ﬁndings ‘had since been misinterpreted, carved into a cudgel for bashing women. If
women are their own worst enemies, after all, why should people push for women’s
workplace advancement? She regrets that giving “a catchy name” to a complex pattern of
behavior helped launch queen-bee-ism as “a thing” –one that has endured despite all the
gains working women have made since the 1970s’.
In recent years, we have started to use the term ‘self-group distancing’ to refer to the
process by which women and other minorities may emphasize how they are different
from their negatively stereotyped group in order to increase individual success (see, e.g.,
Derks et al., 2016; Van Veelen, Veldman, Van Laar, & Derks, forthcoming; Veldman,
Meeussen, Van Laar, & Lo Bleu, 2020). As previous research (Derks, Ellemers et al., 2011;
Derks, Van Laar et al., 2011; Faniko et al., 2017) suggests the tendency to self-distance
from other women in the workplace is not a ‘natural tendency’ of women, but is a
behavioral strategy prompted by (implicit) organizational deﬁnitions of success that are
couched in masculine terms. It also conveys that efforts to increase diversity at academic
institutions should not just focus on increasing the numbers of women (or other
minorities), but aim to make these institutions more inclusive by rewarding more
heterogeneous models of success, so that emphasizing masculine qualities and distancing
from one’s group is no longer the royal road to success.
We are grateful to Gr´
egory Tschabuschnig for assistance with bibliography searching.
Conﬂicts of interest
All authors declare no conﬂict of interest.
Queen Bee phenomenon in Academia 15 years after 13
Klea Faniko (Conceptualization; Data curation; Formal analysis; Investigation; Method-
ology; Project administration; Resources; Validation; Visualization; Writing –original
draft; Writing –review & editing); Naomi Ellemers (Conceptualization; Data curation;
Funding acquisition; Investigation; Methodology; Project administration; Resources;
Supervision; Validation; Visualization; Writing –original draft; Writing –review & editing);
Belle Derks (Conceptualization; Data curation; Investigation; Methodology; Resources;
Validation; Visualization; Writing –original draft; Writing –review & editing).
Data availability statement
Data available on request due to privacy/ethical restrictions: The data that support the ﬁndings
of this study are available on request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly
available due to privacy or ethical restrictions.
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Received 19 January 2020; revised version received 5 June 2020
The following supporting information may be found in the online edition of the article:
Table S1. Perceived levels of career commitment of female and male early career
academics as a fonction of participant gender and career stage (early vs. advanced
Queen Bee phenomenon in Academia 15 years after 17